Rem­i­nis­cences With Chief Lamidi Tolani

Al­though Chief Lamidi Tolani hails from Kwara State, he sees him­self more as a north­ern Nige­rian. The 80-year-old re­tired per­ma­nent sec­re­tary worked as a clerk in the Bank of Bri­tish West Africa, Kaduna, now known as the First Bank of Nige­ria. He had enro

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You are 80 years old, how would you de­scribe your jour­ney on earth so far?

My jour­ney on earth has not been full of roses. It is a com­bi­na­tion of mo­ments of sad­ness and hap­pi­ness. My early stage in life was spent on the farm, up till when I was 16 years old. I also at­tended a Qur’anic school, which was pri­vately or­gan­ised through an in­for­mal ed­u­ca­tion. After that, I was sent to a mis­sion­ary school in Jebba South, known as United Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety School (UMS), where I be­gan my pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and later left for the Bap­tist Day School in Minna, Niger State. I later pro­ceeded to Barewa Col­lege, Zaria after com­plet­ing my pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion. It was six years of so­journ in Zaria.

I had an ex­pe­ri­ence as a clerk in the Bank of Bri­tish West Africa, Kaduna, now First Bank of Nige­ria, be­fore I started pre-univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion at the Nige­rian Col­lege of Art and Tech­nol­ogy, Zaria. I stud­ied art sub­jects, in­clud­ing English Lan­guage, Lit­er­a­ture, His­tory and Ge­og­ra­phy. From there I went to the Univer­sity of La­gos. I also got ad­mis­sion into the In­sti­tute of Ad­min­is­tra­tion, now Ah­madu Bello Univer­sity, to read Law in 1962. I spent one year there and moved to the Univer­sity of La­gos; not be­cause I wanted to, but the Sar­dauna of Sokoto, the Pre­mier of the North­ern Re­gion, said that all fed­eral in­sti­tu­tions must have rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the North; hence they took four of us there. I left the Law class with the in­ten­tion of study­ing Law and Eco­nomics at the Univer­sity of La­gos be­cause that was what they told me. But un­for­tu­nately, when I got to La­gos, I only read Eco­nomics and grad­u­ated in 1965.

After my grad­u­a­tion, I joined the North­ern Nige­rian Gov­ern­ment as an ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer and was posted to the Min­istry of Es­tab­lish­ment and Train­ing. I was a re­cruit­ment of­fi­cer. The gov­ern­ment had some re­tain­er­ship agree­ment with Ford Foun­da­tion in Amer­ica to de­velop eco­nomic plan­ning ca­pac­ity in the gov­ern­ment, so all of us who ma­jored in ei­ther Eco­nomics or Sta­tis­tics were pulled to­gether to the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Plan­ning. At that time, we took charge of the provinces of the North, and I was in charge of Borno, Bauchi and Adamawa. Ev­ery ac­tiv­ity in re­spect of the three places in terms of in­for­ma­tion was al­ways di­rected at me, es­pe­cially as it con­cerned eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties in schools, roads and other vi­tal sta­tis­tics re­quired for the de­vel­op­ment of the area.

We stud­ied un­der the Ford Foun­da­tion economists and statis­ti­cians. It con­tin­ued like that un­til there was a coup in 1965, which was fol­lowed by the cre­ation of states. By 1966 and 1967, I was posted to the North­East. In the Borno civil ser­vice, I grew from a plan­ning of­fi­cer till I be­came the chief plan­ning of­fi­cer and later rose to the po­si­tion of per­ma­nent sec­re­tary. I was moved from Borno to Bauchi, where I spent about 12 years and be­came a ca­reer per­ma­nent sec­re­tary. I re­tired from the civil ser­vice in July 1986. At that time, I had al­ready spent 9 years as a per­ma­nent sec­re­tary. When I saw that there was no prospect of mov­ing to any po­si­tion again, I re­tired vol­un­tar­ily. After my re­tire­ment, I moved to La­gos and started a pri­vate con­sult­ing firm where we ad­vised our clients on how to set up busi­nesses. I also re­cruited staff for some states such as Kwara. I be­came the Com­mis­sioner for Fi­nance in Kwara State dur­ing the mil­i­tary ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Can you share your most strik­ing ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing your ac­tive years in ser­vice?

My most strik­ing mo­ment was my ser­vice at the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Plan­ning. At that time, the gov­ern­ment took plan­ning se­ri­ously, so our voice as plan­ners struck like law within the plan­ning sphere be­cause noth­ing got done with­out clear­ance from the eco­nomic plan­ning of­fice. In­vari­ably, com­mis­sion­ers, per­ma­nent sec­re­taries and even gov­er­nors would take my ad­vice be­fore tak­ing any de­ci­sion. I loved it, not be­cause of the money, but I was sat­is­fied with my le­git­i­mate earn­ings as a plan­ner. There was no con­trac­tual in­cen­tive or re­ward be­cause my col­leagues in other min­istries earned a lot and achieved many things. I had job sat­is­fac­tion.

Can you com­pare the bank­ing in­dus­try then with now?

There was enor­mous hon­esty in the bank­ing sys­tem in those days. The man­agers, down to the low­est rank­ing of­fi­cer, per­formed their func­tions with se­ri­ous ded­i­ca­tion, hon­esty and trans­parency. We didn’t usu­ally re­quest for any­thing be­fore loans were granted. We strictly fol­lowed laid down rules, which were given by the Bri­tish who were the man­agers. We didn’t also di­vulge se­crets within the bank.

I re­mem­ber the ac­counts of big Nige­ri­ans then, from the pre­mier, down to other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials with lower bal­ances. There were never huge amounts of money in their ac­counts. In fact, many at times, the ac­counts, in­clud­ing that of Sir Ah­madu Bello, would en­ter red. Im­me­di­ately we dis­cov­ered that, we would no­tify them and they would pay money into the ac­counts. Also, if a cer­tain huge amount of money was lodged into an ac­count, we usu­ally re­jected it un­til the per­son proved the source of the money. That is lack­ing in our bank­ing sec­tor now. It strikes me more th­ese days that banks will col­lect huge sums of money with­out ver­i­fy­ing the source. The man­ager will just keep you in one cor­ner of the bank, col­lect, count and get his or her own share.

Do you think we need an­other re­form in our bank­ing sec­tor?

We need re­forms in ev­ery as­pect of our life as a coun­try, more im­por­tantly, the bank­ing sec­tor. This is be­cause once the bank­ing sec­tor is faulty, the so­ci­ety will be ru­ined. The Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) and the cur­rency we have are a re­flec­tion of our so­ci­etal prod­ucts like houses and oth­ers. If the bank­ing sec­tor turns up­side down, it will up­set ev­ery­thing. We need se­ri­ous re­forms.

Some of your mates at the Barewa Col­lege would have made land­marks in their cho­sen ca­reers. Can you re­mem­ber some of them?

My Barewa days were one of my most mo­men­tous pe­ri­ods in life. I en­joyed it to the fullest. That was the place where I came in close con­tact with the core Hausa and Fu­lani, as well as peo­ple from other parts of Nige­ria. Peo­ple were ad­mit­ted from wher­ever they resided. For in­stance, I was not ad­mit­ted as a Kwara stu­dent but Niger be­cause I did my pri­mary school there. Gen­eral Gowon was my se­nior in school.

Many of my mates have made it in the so­ci­ety. Some of them are Gen­eral David Bamg­boye, Dr Amuda Aluko, Sen­a­tor Ayinla, Al­haji Ade­bayo, for­mer com­mis­sioner of pub­lic com­plaints. They were my se­niors. I can­not re­mem­ber many of them. I was in the same room as Gov­er­nor Al­kali while Gov­er­nor Al­wali Kazir was my ju­nior. Al­kali was the one who sub­mit­ted my name to be ap­pointed com­mis­sioner in Kwara State. My best friends, up till now, are from the North. Muhammed Ibrahim, a one­time chair­man of the First Bank and per­ma­nent sec­re­tary at dif­fer­ent min­istries in Kano State, was one of them. The chair­man of Jaiz Bank was also my class­mate in Barewa Col­lege. I have lost touch with some of them from the East, but there is one who played foot­ball. How­ever, stu­dents from the eastern part of the coun­try were not many be­cause they got ad­mis­sion through other states. There was a par­tic­u­lar Igbo guy who got ad­mis­sion as a Sokoto stu­dent be­cause he lived there. Nige­ria was so united that ev­ery­body ac­cepted you as one of them wher­ever you were.

Chief Lamidi Tolani

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